How to compose a photo to get your message across

If the cliché that a picture is worth 1,000 words is true, what is your picture saying?

Is it saying that someone has a telephone pole sticking out of her head? That your subject seems to have his eyes closed a lot? That your subject turns away from people when she is talking to them? Or that he doesn’t have any hands?

Chances are that none of these is the message you want to convey when you are snapping a photo, but often times that’s what they say. By spending just a few moments thinking of one of the most important subjects of photography — composition — we can turn even the most humdrum image into something visually appealing.


Before you start to shoot…

Look around the room and the area in which you are going to shoot. What is in the image? Do you want that trashcan in your photo? Or that car? What about the water bottle? Remember that everything in a photo is another piece of information for the viewer, so select what information you do – or don’t – want to convey. Too much clutter in the background distracts folks from the image you want them to focus on.


What is that coming out of your head?

Much like you look around the room to see what is in your image, make sure there are no odd looking shapes behind your subject. It not only distracts from the image, but a poorly positioned phone pole can look downright ghoulish. Simply moving a few feet to the side may solve this problem. Likewise, be sure not to cut off any body parts that make a person look odd.


Action! Or not…

If you are trying to show that your program is fun and engaging and hands-on, then why is everyone sitting down or just standing in a straight line looking at the camera? This is a chance to take good action shots to show your folks doing something. A bad action shot can be more interesting than a good grip-and-grin. You have to take a lot more of them to get one that works, but the pay-off is worth it.


Bend your knees!

Look for interesting angles to shoot from. Try from down low. Or up high. Or put the camera over your head and shoot blindly. The most boring thing you can do is to take a photo from exactly the same perspective all the time.


Be in control

If you are setting up a shot to illustrate a program, you have complete artistic license to manipulate the shot. Don’t like the way that person is sitting? Ask them to move! Think it would be better in a different part of the room? Ask them to move! The key is that you are the artistic director, which means you have to direct people to get what you want.


Back of your head

It is hard to emotionally connect to the back of someone’s head. So get in front of the people and make sure you can see their eyes and faces – it will make for a much more engaging, interactive shot.


Take lots of shots

The beauty of digital photography is that you can take an inordinate amount of images, so don’t be shy with your shutter finger. You can literally take 100 shots and only get one or two good ones. And always, always, always review your shots at the moment to see if you have what you are looking for.


And have fun!

Photography is an art and a very approachable one at that. So have fun with it, mix it up, and try new things. You’ll like what you see!

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